Explicit Thoughts

When ideas cross my mind, I generally have little or no inhibitions about expressing them plainly and explicitly. In contrast, I feel like many people censor themselves by suppressing or at least not explicitly stating what they think.

Most people seem to be afraid that other people might think less of them. Not me: I am entirely open to and accept whatever other people think of me. True: Many people are quite shallow thinkers, but I consider that to be their issue, not mine.

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The King of the New Media Jungle

There are many kinds of “new media”. Depending on your time horizon, you might even consider cassette tapes to be new media. Yet now that we have more or less arrived in the new millennium, most people would say the day of the cassette tape is over, maybe even long dead and gone.

My kids consider their smartphones to be new media. A recent article by Jason Calacanis (“Apple’s brilliant assault on advertising — and Google“) took a deep look at some current developments among the leaders in this space. This and similar articles have been making the rounds for several weeks now and have been one of the focal points of much heated debate. Much of the controversy is about advertising (in particular: online advertising) and the monopolistic hegemony Google holds over advertising on the world-wide web.

In my opinion, the world-wide web (“www”) is the king of the new media jungle.

I am not alone in this view, but it seems that there are indeed quite few people who are able to see this clearly. Consider, for example, this comment written on “Hacker News” regarding Jason’s article:

This [controversy] exemplifies a misunderstanding I see a lot of people make. The web isn’t whatever happens to be rendered by a browser. It’s a shared information space full of linked resources. The protocol and document format aren’t defining characteristics of the web, they are implementation details. It’s the links and distributed nature that are the defining qualities of the web.

(note the irony of how many people commonly refer to news.ycombinator.com as “Hacker News”: ycombinator.com is ycombinator.com — referring to it [or news.ycombinator.com] as “Hacker News” is simply rather comical nonsense)

Why is the www the king of the new media jungle? Well, if you wish to take an opposing point of view, then you must be getting your information via some other channel, right? Please: Feel free to share with us how you are reading these words I am writing! 😉

You may be watching a video. Are you watching via terrestrial television? You may be listening to audio — have you tuned your FM radio to a new channel recently? Are you perhaps reading a newspaper? Dead tree format?

An often quoted observation is that new media rarely replace old media (although I might generally agree, I feel that mp3 players / recorders are so widespread today that they have pretty much completely replaced cassette tapes). However, today almost all forms of media are consumed via the web… and therefore via a web address (or link) — something like e.g. ycombinator.com or https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10275595.

I guess every media format has peculiarities that are typical to that particular medium. Books are different than newspapers, mp4 video files are different than VHS (and these are also both different than celluloid film). Some of these differences are in the technology itself, other differences are socially and/or institutionally sanctioned. For example: Copyright is not something inherent to print, ink on paper, or almost any “media” technology. And copyright itself (as a social institution) has changed and evolved over the years. Nonetheless: Today, and also for the foreseeable future, the world-wide web will continue to be the king of the jungle — perhaps even increasingly so.

In this light the world-wide web deserves special attention. Yet again: How ironic it is that most people view the www as if it were merely a cheap imitation of other forms of media!

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Artificial Intelligence, Intelligent Design, Evolution and Comedy

I have some friends who have launched a new podcast. I don’t want to talk about it — I feel it speaks for itself. I will say that I consider it to be quite funny here and there.

One thing I do want to do is to respond to it (and BTW: if you’re not well-versed in Frank Zappa, then now might be a good time to consider “Call Any Vegetable” 😉 ).

There are 2 things that have happened in the story so far — I mean: 2 things I wish to remark on. First, Ted and Brandon decided early on that making small changes among huge populations was something they weren’t going to consider — because they were afraid something like that wouldn’t work. The second thing they did was to mention Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is considered by many to be an AI guru. In my opinion, his influence is rather limited… because his work is primarily about pattern recognition (and because the patterns that are supposed to be recognized are patterns that are defined by so-called “intelligent” beings). No AI I know of can recognize any pattern that has not been defined by such an intelligent being beforehand.

Evolution, however, is precisely such a process which “discovers” new patterns. It does this via trial and error — and crucially: small changes. In my opinion, Ted and Brandon may be making a huge mistake by ignoring the possibility that humans may be able to make some huge strides in very small steps. I also find it comical that two grown men would still believe that only people that seem to have immense power (like Superman) would be able to make momentous change happen.


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Fuzzy Language and Fuzzy Vocabulary

Since I wrote about words vs. names a couple weeks ago (see “Names vs. Words: Strings for Identity vs. Strings for Information“), I have had an uneasy feeling that something is not well… and I think maybe I have figured it out now.

The problem is this: online, there is no clear demarcation of words vs. names. As I indicated in the post I linked to above, neither is this true in a strict sense offline. However, even though many dictionaries exist for each of the most common languages (and even though they differ in the vocabularies they document, how they document these vocabularies, etc.), there is nonetheless a somewhat reliable order … such that anyone can be expected to “look up” any word in any dictionary and get a more or less reasonable explanation. Part of becoming literate involves being able to use a dictionary — indeed: any dictionary (more or less). Of course there are dictionaries which are unusable (as they are not well researched), but they are exceptions, not the rule. Most people depend on the notion of some standard dictionary, and such standard dictionaries describe the standard language.

As I wrote about 10 years ago in my first “Wisdom of the Language” article, languages will always be moving targets. We have to be able to deal with such “facts of life”.

But upon reflecting on the juxtaposition of “strings for identity” (names) versus “strings for information” (words), I notice a much more severe issue: It leaves no room for dictionaries. In the back of my mind, I have reasoned that all of the registered strings in COM would make up the “commercial” dictionary, all of the strings in DE would make up the German dictionary, and so on. But each of these lists of registered strings also includes a significant number of brand names (in other words: “strings for identities”).

How will we know whether a string has been registered for a specific identity or whether it is registered for informative purposes? My gut feeling “hunch” reaction is that there may very well be attributes of the website / content that more or less clearly categorize the string as this type or that type. It might go like this: The more evidence there is of a “grass roots” type of community involvement in how the content is managed, the more the string would tend to be a word used by that community. Less evidence of this, and more evidence of a “top down” authoritarian management of the content would point towards an individual or organization identifying himself / herself / itself with the string.

I realize this seems rather wishy-washy. Maybe someday I will figure out something more clear, but until then I guess I will just have to cope with such fuzzy notions: fuzzy vocabulary and fuzzy language.


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Delusions of Grandeur

Wikipedia.org has two articles that seem somewhat related — one is about “delusions of grandeur”, the other is about “grandiosity”. From the latter:

A distinction is made between individuals exhibiting grandiosity, which includes a degree of insight into their unrealistic thoughts (they are aware that their behavior is considered unusual), in contrast to those experiencing grandiose delusions, who lack this capability for reality-testing. Some individuals may transition between these two states, with grandiose ideas initially developing as “daydreams” that the patient recognises as untrue, but which can subsequently turn into full delusions that the patient becomes convinced reflect reality.

In this post, I hope to describe how my own world view is strongly shaped by sociological thought, rather than such psychological approaches. The way I see it, psychology tries to explain the behavior of individuals without any reference to the groups, communities, cultures or societies they are a “part” of. In my opinion such a perspective is wrong on many grounds — perhaps the most significant one is the nearly ridiculous view that the psychologist apparently considers himself/herself able to make observations regarding people that might pass muster as “scientific” or “objective”; a close second is the quite obvious observation almost anyone with even a minimal education could make, namely that people are indeed very strongly affected by other people. As psychology and psychiatry are normally considered to fall within the discipline of medicine, their focus is nearly exclusively on biological organs. This very parochial approach is not always and everywhere followed by each and every psychologist / psychiatrist (indeed, just a single exception would suffice to discredit such a hypothesis), but one can hardly deny that the more any psychologist / psychiatrist pays attention to sociological factors, the less likely they will be considered to be bona fide  medical professionals.

Let me try to make all of this a little more concrete with an example. Sometimes people say to me: “You can only change yourself — you cannot change others”, several ideas occur to me (but most of these ideas are not exactly in my direct consciousness — I have to reflect on them in order to bring them fully into my awareness). First of all: Why does this person say this to me? If we cannot change other people, are they not wasting their breath in talking to me at all? Indeed: Following this thinking, it is completely absurd that humans developed language, that we send our children to school, that we pay people to do jobs, and so on.

Secondly, even if this were not a completely absurd thing to say, I think: “Does this person actually consider me to be such a narcissistic idiot, that I might think I could say ‘X’ and then expect other people to simply ‘fall in line’?” What image do they have of me, to suppose that I would think this way? Although I do admit that I am happy when someone shares my opinion, I do not expect that other people will always accept my way of thinking. It is merely my opinion — and even if I strongly defend it, that certainly doesn’t mean I consider it to be an indisputable truth.

Here is another example, perhaps even a little more extreme than the previous one: There is a so-called “Law of Attraction”, a quasi theory which wikipedia.org declares has no scientific basis — “the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life”. In other words: merely by thinking something — nothing more than a mental state — people might be able to cause such events to happen … no, indeed even it is more fantastic than that: The supposition is that there is some sort of natural law, which will force these things to come about. Apparently, there must be a lot of people who think too much about cancer, or maybe they can’t help themselves from constantly thinking about car accidents. I do admit to having thought about sunny days before, but that doesn’t mean these thoughts actually brought about sunny days, does it?

In contrast, I feel that a large part of the world we live in is socially constructed. No one can succeed on their own. Every success is a matter that is sanctioned by some group, some community, some culture, some society, etc. People who feel they are able to succeed on their own are deluding themselves. They apparently do not wish to accept the role that other people have played in achieving their status, their privileges and/or their awesomeness.


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